Discovery of redistricted boundary cancels one uncontested election
by David Boyle
An unopposed candidate for the San Juan school board on the November ballot will not be able to fill a new term as a result of a late discovery about the redistricted board boundaries.
Nelson Yellowman has served for 16 years on the San Juan School Board since being elected in 2006, but his plans for another four years of service were halted by a discovery that another school board member was placed in the district he represents during redistricting.
The issue was discovered in October, when board member Merri Shumway received her ballot and saw she was set to vote in the district five school board elections.
Conversations with the county clerk’s office confirmed Shumway, who has served her district on the school board for more than 20 years, does not live within the new boundaries of district two. Instead, she lives in the newly drawn boundaries for district five.
Redistricting maps for the school board, as well as the county commission, are adopted by the San Juan County Commission.
Yellowman was re-elected to office for a four-year term in 2018 while Shumway was re-elected to a four-year term in 2020.
Per state code, school board elected officials are entitled to fill out their elected terms.
As a result, Shumway will represent district five through 2024.
In 2024 Yellowman, Shumway, or any other qualified candidate in the district may run for a four-year term.
With Shumway no longer representing district two, that seat will be open in January. The late discovery of the vacant seat means an election cannot be held but an appointment will be made by the school board for two years.
The vacant seat, which is located primarily in Blanding and some parts north of town, will be filled by a resident of the district either in late 2022 or early 2023.
School district staff report it is their understanding that following the two-year appointment, an election will be held for a two-year term.
Placing two sitting board members in a single school board district happened twice in the most recent redistricting following the 2020 Census.
Board members Steve Black and Lucille Cody were also placed in the same district. Cody’s elected term concludes at the end of 2022, while Black will serve to represent district four through 2024.
An election is being held for Black’s former district three this November, with Sheila Knight and Colleen Benally appearing on the ballot.
District one is represented by board president Lori Maughan.
Redistricting following the Census was finalized in San Juan County at a January 18, 2022 meeting of the San Juan County Commission.
At the meeting, county commissioners voted 2-1 to approve a map for the school board presented by the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission.
The approved map placed Black and Cody in the same district, as well as Shumway and Yellowman, although that was not discovered until October 2022.
Tweaks were made to the Navajo Nation Human Rights Commission map between commission meetings in January focused on the east side of the county.
The clerk’s office reports that focus on those changes to the east side of the map is how they missed the slight change that put Shumway two-tenths of a mile outside her old district.